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SUMMARY: Two boys growing up together in an idyllic beachfront community share a passion for baseball. One excels at the game and plays it with reckless abandon; the other, less talented, studies the game and those who play it, hoping someday to share what he learns with others. Best friends since childhood, the two have seen how baseball can bring them closer together. Now, having just graduated from high school, it’s about to show them a crueler side of the game. Baseball is about to separate them even though neither wants that to happen. You can find a longer synopsis of the entire story here. Please note that italics are typically used to indicate what a character is thinking or saying to himself.
WARNING: This story is a work of adult fiction and intended for mature audiences only. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. Unless otherwise indicated by context, all of the characters, leagues, stadiums, teams and clubs portrayed or mentioned in this story are fictional, not depictions of real people, leagues, stadiums, teams and clubs. Please note that the story may describe, depict or otherwise include graphic portrayals of relationships between men and/or adolescent boys that are homosexual in nature. If you do not like or approve of such discussions or it is illegal for you to read such material, consider yourself warned. If you continue to read this story, you are asserting that you are fully capable of understanding and legally consenting to reading a work of adult fiction.
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NOTES: Please check these notes every week. If there is something I want to alert you to as I post each chapter, this is where I will I do so. January 6: I’ve been having problems with my internet connection, but it looks like I’ll be able to schedule this chapter for publication. In the future, if a chapter doesn’t show up at the usual time, please be aware I may be having problems with internet access, including my e-mail account.
What I mostly recall was how quiet the room was that evening.
I had stayed in tons of small town hotels over the years and by now I was used to falling asleep to the all too familiar sounds; the people talking in hallways, the trucks passing by on the interstate on their way to somewhere else, the drunken revelers stumbling back to their rooms late at night, the sirens from vehicles racing to some emergency off in the distance. I was used to all that.
And yet here I was in San Francisco having trouble falling asleep in a comfortable bed in a five star hotel that was quieter than any I had ever stayed in before.
You would have thought sleep would come easily that evening, especially after such a grueling day. But I had been tossing and turning for at least an hour after the team got back to the hotel; and now here I was staring at the ceiling thinking about everything that had happened the last twenty-four hours.
I had just gone from playing baseball in a dusty town in front of a few thousand people on America’s east coast to playing before tens of thousands of people in San Francisco on the west coast. I had played well enough that evening, two for three at the plate plus a walk. More importantly, I had played flawlessly in the field, handling everything hit in my direction without an error.
That’s why the Warriors had traded for me after all. Everyone knew that. Shortstop is a defensive position above everything else, one where teams keep their offensive expectations in check. Like catchers, the standard by which shortstops are judged is different from other positions in baseball. That I could hit and steal bases were positives, of course, but the Warriors had pursued me for my defensive skills primarily.
They were a good team now, a perennial loser that had been getting better the last couple of years; and this year they were finally making a run to get into the playoffs at last. But they needed a shortstop to anchor their defense on the left side of the field. It was a hole they had been trying to fill for two years and they had tried just about everything by then.
They had given two guys within their own minor league system a shot at the job, but neither had been able to take advantage of the opportunity. They had tried plugging in a couple of journeymen shortstops, guys who had been banging around the league for years. They could do the job, just not well enough to meet the expectations Washington had.
They had even tried filling the position by converting their second baseman. It was one of those failed experiments teams sometimes try when they’re desperate; and now, having exhausted all those possibilities, management had finally bitten the bullet. They had traded away two players and one of their top minor league prospects for me and a player to be named later.
It was one of those mega deals involving four different teams, the kind sports writers love because it would give them something to write about for weeks. They would go over the ground again and again in an effort to determine the winners and losers. They would never come to a definitive conclusion, of course; only time would eventually sort the whole thing out and decide who had gotten the best of the deal.
I had gotten word of the trade just after 10 p.m. in Portsmouth the previous evening, first from my manager and then a few minutes later from someone in Washington’s front office. Following instructions, I had rented a car and driven north to Washington-Dulles International Airport in northern Virginia. By the time I arrived, the Warriors had rented a room for me in a nearby hotel.
As much as I wanted to call home with the news, I couldn’t. They were keeping the deal under wraps for some reason so I spent the night tossing and turning. I had finally boarded a plane late the next morning using a ticket management had purchased for me. Then I had flown 3000 miles cross country to join the Warriors in San Francisco.
It was the second stop on a twelve day road trip that would see them play a series against four different teams. They wanted me there as soon as possible because some of the sports writers were saying the trip would decide just how seriously their run for the playoffs should be taken.
Just before I boarded the airplane, word of the trade had begun to leak out and someone from the Warriors’ front office handed me a story one of the sports writers for the Washington Post had just posted on the internet. It included a quote from Jack Girardi, the Warriors’ General Manager.
“Some people are saying we gave up a lot to get Williams and we did. But we got what we were looking for, the guy who’s going to anchor the left side of our infield from now on. This guy is our shortstop of the future and he’s good. We’ve had our eye on him for a while now. We’re glad we got him. He’s going to fill a big hole for us.”
They tell you to be cautious when someone flatters you like that, but I must have read those words a million times on the flight out to San Francisco. Minor league players don’t get flattered very much and it made the flight a lot easier reading those words over and over.
One of the team’s public relations people met me at the airport and we drove across town in a chartered limo to the hotel where the team was staying. The guy had brought along a few more stories about the deal and I devoured them on the drive into town.
The initial assessment of some of the sports writers was that the Warriors had filled a hole they badly needed to fill and strengthened their chances to make the playoffs, but had paid a big price to do so.
That’s what I loved about sports writers. Without ever taking a position one way or the other, they could spend a lot of words telling people what they already knew.
There had been a quick meeting with Mr. Girardi when I got to the hotel. He didn’t say very much, just welcomed me aboard and indicated he would be calling Avery soon because the team was anxious to get a longer term deal in place. That meeting was followed by a brief interview with a couple of Washington reporters traveling with the team. Mr. Girardi told me to keep it simple so I did my best.
Really happy about the trade . . . excited about being called up . . . dream come true . . . looking forward to meeting my new teammates and doing whatever I can to help.
Someone from the public relations staff mentioned there would be a bigger introduction with more reporters when we got back to Washington. And then, still exhausted from the long flight, I had been driven out to the park and introduced, first to the manager of the Warriors, Doc Howard, and then to the rest of my teammates.
Having done introductions like that several times over my minor league career, I knew what to expect. Some guys would greet you and immediately try to make you feel at home without any hesitation or questions; others, more reserved, would do what courtesy required but withhold judgment until they got to know you a little better.
Which of them you would end up being a little closer to wouldn’t be clear for a while.
I was surprised they threw me into the game that evening. I mean, it wasn’t exactly the best time or place to make my first major league start. I had been up late the previous night driving and then flown 3000 miles cross country. But I had done fine; nothing spectacular, nothing flashy, just a solid, workmanlike performance.
After everything they had tried to fill that hole at shortstop and knowing the circumstances, I was pretty certain management would be satisfied with that. Later they would expect more; but, for the moment at least, they would be fine with how I had done.
But now the game was over and I was back at the hotel in a room by myself. They hadn’t anticipated my presence when they booked the rooms so they had to get me one a little further away from the rest of the guys, at least for one night until the travel secretary could sweep me up into his system.
I was just as glad. Like I said, I was pretty tired, but for some reason I didn’t seem to be able to fall asleep. Maybe it was the residual shot of adrenalin that came from playing my very first major league ball game. Maybe it was just the after effects of a long and tiresome day. Or maybe it was all of those things and more.
It didn’t much matter. I was keyed up and knew what it would eventually take to get myself relaxed enough to fall asleep. For the moment, however, my mind was elsewhere.
It’s kind of funny actually. There are guys who have the whole scenario planned out in their heads. They had thought about the moment they would finally hear they were being called up to the majors. In their heads, they had the whole thing planned out to the very last detail; what they would say to the press, how they would greet their new teammates, and all the rest of it.
Me? I had never thought about it at all, not even when I was bored and it would have provided a distraction. To me it was something beyond my control. It was someone else’s decision when or whether I would ever get called up; and because it was hard enough to deal with those things you could control, it never seemed to make much sense to think about something you couldn’t.
But now it had finally happened and it was actually kind of overwhelming.
Right after arriving in San Francisco I had managed to squeeze in a few moments to call my mother and Zachary. Like me, they were pretty excited about the whole thing when I told them. They were going to watch the game on television that evening even though I told them I doubted the Warriors would play me and they should just try to get a good night’s sleep.
It was a short call, too short; they had to leave early because Zachary’s team was playing for the league championship that evening. I wished him the best of luck.
“What’s luck got to do with it, Ethan,” he chided me. “I’m pumped and I’m going to single-handedly destroy Ocean City tonight; and then I’m going to come after your job, dude, at least in a couple of years.”
It made me smile, but I was happy for both of them. Along with Hunter, they had been my biggest fans over the years and they had put up with a lot while I struggled to make it all the way to the top. People forget that. They see you out on the field and think how great it must be to play big league baseball and get paid a ransom to do it. But that isn’t the whole story, of course.
You go through a lot of struggles along the way; and, as for the money, I didn’t have a clue what my next paycheck would look like. I knew there was a minimum salary everyone who played in the PBLA had to be paid and that it was a hell of a lot more than I had been making at Portsmouth. I would get a pro-rated share of that minimum for each game I played the rest of the season; and at some point Avery and Washington management would sit down and discuss a longer term deal, something both sides could live with.
Over the years a couple of guys had told me I would be better off getting a new agent; that Avery’s firm was too small, too inexperienced, and just not aggressive enough. But I was planning to stick with Avery. He had done a lot for me personally over the years and still more for Zachary. That was something I would never forget. I was going to repay Avery for everything he had done.
Like I said, people think it must be great to play major league ball and make the big money. But they didn’t have a clue about the price you had to pay for that. Grady had been right. The higher you rose in professional baseball, the harder it became to make friends. Truth be told, I didn’t really have a close friend. I hadn’t had one for years.
What I had were teammates and acquaintances, people I occasionally did things with; some a little closer than others, but none I would call a friend like those I had made that first summer with the Heat. I don’t understand why it had gone down that way exactly. I mean, there were all the usual reasons people like to cite, things like how players saw one another as rivals and such.
And there was some of that, no doubt about it. But mostly I think it was just how transient the whole thing was. Everything was always changing. People were constantly coming and going so it just didn’t make a lot of sense trying to get close to anyone. I had made one tentative effort to do so along the way and that had turned out badly.
Some of the guys deal with the loneliness by getting married or fooling around with the teenage girls who spend endless hours hanging around the parks looking for a boyfriend. I felt sorry for those girls. I could see how hard they were trying to escape those little towns they lived in, the towns they found so confining and dreary. I couldn’t blame them for that, but it hardly ever worked out the way they were hoping for and they ended up getting used in the process.
Dating those girls wasn’t an option for me, of course; in fact, there was no option for someone like me. Baseball didn’t recognize people like me played the game and Mark had been emphatic that I needed to keep it that way if I ever wanted to play big league ball.
Stay away from gay bars, he cautioned.
Someone will recognize you, Ethan.
It’s too big a risk.
He was right about that, I suppose. Not that any of the places I played in over the years had gay bars. They weren’t exactly hotbeds of sin and iniquity. They were small and conservative and liked to think of themselves as family oriented; and they were, at least as long as you were part of their family, not some other family, some strange, exotic, family like the one I was part of.
They weren’t the kind of places where gay bars took root or gay people were welcomed. If there were any gay people in those places, they were invisible.
There were other possibilities, of course; things like Grindr or the Craigslist personals, which always had a few listings from people with the same needs as me who lived in rural areas and were looking to get together anonymously for a quick little meet up and an even quicker release.
If anything, that seemed even more dangerous to me than a gay bar. There might be more anonymity about the whole thing, but it was like buying a pig in a poke. Truth be told, it just didn’t hold much appeal in any event. It wasn’t the release I was looking for so much, at least at first. I was looking for someone who cared about me and someone I could care about too.
I had thought a lot about Donnie and Tyler over the years, wondered what had happened to them and how they were doing. I remember feeling sad whenever I did that. What kind of a life was that after all, slinking around public restrooms, doing stuff with people you didn’t really care about just because you needed to make a little money to put food in your stomach?
I remember telling myself that evening I would go back to that park the next time the Warriors played in Phoenix. I didn’t think Donnie and Tyler would still be around, but not finding them there would make me feel better somehow; make me feel like everything had turned out the best for them. Even if I could never be sure, it would make me feel better.
The point is, except for one encounter over two years ago, there had been no one except the people I fantasized about while jerking off every night. After moving to Columbia I had focused almost entirely on Hunter; but at some point the whole thing had started to become kind of mechanical, just like everything else I did preparing for bed. Brush and floss my teeth; set the alarm clock; jerk off together with Hunter.
And because I didn’t ever want it to be mechanical with Hunter, I started substituting others, hesitantly at first because no one could ever replace Hunter after all; but later more easily as Hunter and I seemed to drift further apart.
Lately, I had found myself kneeling before some of the brown skinned boys in my dreams late at night, young dudes from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and elsewhere who loved playing ball but were Americanized enough to dream the American dream; to dream about getting a blow job. It was something they liked joking about in Spanish among themselves in the dugout. It used to make me smile because I had picked up enough Spanish by then to know what they were talking about.
They were usually focused on some hot little teenage girl in the stands when the joking started, but most of them wouldn’t have turned down a guy who offered to do it to them. In their culture, at least for a lot of them, it was only the receptive partner who was gay. They weren’t gay. They just wanted a blow job because it would feel good and how much difference was there between a male and female mouth after all?
It was all about the release, all about getting off.
I was happy enough to do it for them, at least in my dreams; and with some of them, the cutest among them, I was happy to let them do more, a lot more. But tonight was going to be different. Tonight was the night after my first major league ball game and I wanted to do it with someone special. Reaching down, I closed my eyes and began touching myself.
“Come on, Hunter; I really need you tonight. We have this room together alone, at least for one night. Let’s have some fun together like we used to, Hunter.”
The road trip was a successful one, both for myself and the team. I was happy about that, but it was some of the other stuff that astonished me the most. I had taken plenty of trips in the minors and they were hard. It took a special kind of discipline to get through them. Like everything else, however, it was different in the majors.
Mark had told me it would be different, but the differences between playing in the majors and the minors are incredible. I had gone from playing in front of small crowds in towns with stadiums that left a lot to be desired to playing in front of large crowds in well-tended stadiums in some of America’s largest cities. We weren’t staying at Days Inns, Red Roof Motels, or Motel 7 where the dude leaves the lights on for you at night either.
We were staying at some of the finest hotels in the country. We were flying in a chartered aircraft with all the amenities, not bouncing around on some dusty back road filled with potholes on a bus that seemed ready to give it up at any moment and usually smelled pretty bad by the end of an especially long trip; and the food? Let’s just say we weren’t eating at McDonald’s, Pizza Hut or Subway anymore. The food was better, much better; and the per diem was a lot better as well.
It’s easy to see how all of that could seduce you pretty quickly; and once having been seduced, it’s even easier to understand why guys would do just about anything never to get sent back down to the minors again. Some of them would have sold their parents and siblings into slavery to avoid that fate. I didn’t think I would ever get that bad, but I sure as hell didn’t want to go back. It didn’t take much persuading to convince me this was where I belonged.
Lots of people will tell you the major league game is a lot faster and they’re right about that. But it’s not just the game itself that’s faster. Everything in life seemed to speed up for me after I was called up. You spend years banging around in the minors without anything ever seeming to change; and then you get called up and everything changes all at once.
Within a few days we were back home in Washington. Mr. Girardi and the rest of Warriors’ management were putting on a full court press to get a long term deal in place. They had introduced me to Mr. Warner, the owner of the team. He seemed nice enough, at least from chatting with him for two or three minutes.
Their initial offer, five million dollars over five years, much of it in the form of different incentives for things like winning a gold glove, was something Avery didn’t think we should accept for a variety of reasons. But, honestly, it sounded like a lot of money to me.
Still, Avery had always done right by me so I gave him the freedom to haggle and that’s what they did. They haggled about money and the length of the deal and incentives and a bunch of other things. But they didn’t haggle very long to be honest. Within two weeks, Avery and management agreed on a three year, six million dollar deal, with a club option for a fourth year and a million dollar signing bonus. There were still some incentives, but another two million was guaranteed.
It was more money than I could conceive of. Even after the taxes and Avery’s share, I would never have to worry again if I was careful; and, more importantly, neither would Mom or Zachary. The whole thing was incredible and just signing that contract made me feel like I belonged at last.
That and the shaving cream pie in the face one of the pitchers, Elián Ramirez, nailed me with in the middle of an interview with one of the local reporters after a game early on. Pitchers are crazy; everyone knew that. They have too much time on their hands so they love playing pranks, but it still had come as a surprise when it happened because usually the pitchers stuck to themselves.
But Elián was different, very welcoming; very friendly. They called him Killer, partly because he could destroy you with any of the five different pitches he had mastery over. But mostly they called him that because he had a baby-face that made him look sixteen. Everyone thought calling someone who looked so young Killer was funny. He almost made me look like an adult.
The point is, I had made it all the way to the top, was playing on the big stage now, and had signed a long term contract, all within a couple of weeks of the trade that had dealt me to Washington.
The contract was the reward for all the hard times and sacrifice I had put in; the dusty afternoons playing in heat and humidity that drained away every last ounce of energy; the cool evenings playing before small crowds at lousy facilities in insignificant little towns scattered across the heartland after thousand mile bus trips along the highways and byways of America.
I was playing major league baseball and life was good because this was the American dream after all. I was making the big money now, more than I knew what to do with; so much money Avery helped me hire some dude to manage it all for me. I was living in a fantastic townhouse Avery had rented for me near the university across town from Warriors Park. The neighborhood was close to everything, the view was stunning, and the townhouse itself had every conceivable amenity to make life enjoyable.
When I ventured outside, more and more small boys and their fathers were recognizing me and asking me to autograph their baseballs, their programs, whatever a pen could leave its mark on. One incredibly good looking boy had even asked me to autograph his chest and I had done it. It had made my groin twitch and I sensed the kid knew and would have said yes if I asked.
But I didn’t. It was risky. More than that, it was wrong. He was too young.
The whole thing was an ego trip although it could wear on you after a while. And yet how could I complain? Like I said, this was the American dream. I should have been happy, but I wasn’t. If anything, I was more frustrated than ever now.
Don’t get me wrong. I liked playing big league ball. I liked having the money. Unlike some of my teammates, I knew how limited my time playing baseball would be. The money was going to have to carry me through life; because once I was done with baseball, I was determined I was going to have a real life, not this phony life I was living, one without friends, without family, without anything really important to me.
What I liked most of all was being in a position to help my Mom and Zachary. Zachary would be attending whatever college he wanted to now, but for some reason he just kept telling me he wanted to go to the University of Delaware up in Newark. I wasn’t sure why exactly. But if that’s where he wanted to go, that’s where he was going and without having to worry about where the money was coming from to pay for it like I had worried about a long time ago.
Mom? The truth is she didn’t seem to want my help all that much. I had offered to move her to Washington or any place she wanted to go, but she said she liked living in Rehoboth Beach and I couldn’t blame her for that. To me the place had always been Paradise.
So I had offered to buy her the best place in Rehoboth Beach, a really big place, one with direct beachfront access. But she just said she was happy living where she had spent most of her life raising me; that she liked making sure my room was ready whenever I was able to get home to see her and Zachary. She didn’t want anything more.
I had offered to buy her a new car, new clothes, whatever she wanted. But all she wanted was for me to come home whenever I could and, honestly, that’s what I wanted as well. Like I said, Rehoboth Beach was still Paradise to me and I was looking forward to getting back there and finally spending some serious time with my Mom, Zachary, and Hunter; and maybe even D.W. and Brady after their season ended.
So, yeah, the money was nice, but it had never been about the money for me personally; and with my mother not accepting very much, the money was just beginning to pile up and sit there. I liked knowing my mother’s future was secure, as was Zachary’s; and I didn’t object to having some money for myself. It allowed me to buy an iPhone and my very first car; the car wasn’t the biggest, baddest, or fastest, but it was nice being able to get around town on my own.
It allowed me to live in a place that was huge and allowed my agent to hire someone to furnish it tastefully for me. My mom and Zachary had been impressed when they finally got up to Washington and saw it. What impressed me the most was just having a day to spend with the two of them even if part of it was consumed by a game.
I took them down to the Mall and showed them some of the monuments and museums. We had lunch together at a very nice place one of the guys on the team suggested. I had turned Zachary loose in the team store and let him buy whatever he wanted. You got a discount if you played for the team and it was a perk that got a lot of use that day.
He was awed when I took him into the locker room and got some of the guys to autograph his gear. He was even more awed when I led him out to the field and let him just wander around for a while. You could see him out in the infield pretending to be the Warriors’ shortstop and that made me happy.
Why shouldn’t kids be able to dream things like that?
And who knew? Maybe he would be their shortstop someday. I mean, he had delivered on his boast after all. By all accounts, he had single-handedly destroyed Ocean City to lead his team to the championship. I was proud of him.
Playing before him that evening in Washington, I knew I had to play well and I did. That was the final blessing in a day’s abundance of blessings for me. We went back to my place after the game, sat around talking for a while, and finally went to bed. Somewhere in the middle of the night Zachary climbed into bed with me. He asked me to hug him and I did. The next morning the two of them headed back to Rehoboth Beach.
It had been much too short of a visit, of course, but I promised them I would be coming home once the season was over; and that, unlike the past couple of years, I would finally spend more time with the two of them this year during the off season.
It was a promise I intended to keep.
I had another motive for that as well. I wanted to spend time with Hunter again. I knew he had graduated from college and the last I had heard he was going to be teaching in Rehoboth Beach in the fall. Maybe this time we would finally be able to spend some serious time together like we had in the old days.
There was a part of me that understood things would never be exactly the same as when we were younger. But the feelings were still there, still as strong as ever, and I remember thinking that maybe I would finally be able to summon the courage to tell him how much he meant to me.
I had promised him a long time ago I would tell him why that spot on the boardwalk was so special to me if I ever made it all the way to the top. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to go through with it, but I was thinking maybe I should give it a try this time.
What did I have to lose after all?
I had everything anyone could want except the one thing I wanted more than anything else.